If you live in downtown Portland, you probably know the struggle: Housing is so expensive around here that a lot of us are crammed into a tiny living space. Lots of college students live in a dorm room, which is not exactly known for its spaciousness. In my own case, my fiancé and I share one small attic room, with my office wedged into one corner. But I’m quite content in this space, because I have everything that I need. Here are my tips for making a small living space yours.
1. Decorate: The first thing I did in my “office” was decorate the walls. You can hang things up with tape or sticky wall hooks so as not to anger your landlord by putting holes in the walls. I’m not picky about what goes up on the wall. It doesn’t have to be an “art print” to go on my Wall of Art. Right now I have a picture of my chicken, my enamel pin collection on a pin banner, a pigeon ornament, an embroidered cat, a John Green quote poster, and the parking pass from the place where my fiancé proposed to me. These things have nothing in common with each other except that they all make me smile.
2. Double down on storage: Storage is key in a small space, and I take great delight in my miniature drawers from Target, which hold my school supplies, makeup, and knicknacks. I am also probably the target customer for IKEA’s Raskog cart, which is a three-shelved storage cart on wheels. I have two of them, one for yarn and one for stuffed alpacas, and they are a lifesaver when it comes to storage.
3. Try journaling for frustration: Journaling is a great way to create something beautiful on paper. You can go for a basic journal or go all out with art journaling — there’s lots of inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram. Journaling is also an excellent way to cope with frustration and process your emotions…and you can do so in a pretty way.
4. Go online: When get fed up with not having enough space to express myself, I turn to online platforms. Then, when I can’t control something in my physical space, I can make my online space a haven. My blog and Instagram are my creative outlets and ways to connect with people. I find happiness in curating them exactly the way I want.
5. Let go of the unimportant: Above all, the most important thing I’ve learned about living in a small space is not to hold onto things that don’t make me happy. There’s no reason to keep something you don’t want to keep (except, perhaps, those tax papers…) that will only clutter up your space. My favorite book on organizing is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, in which she advises only keeping things that “spark joy.” This is the rule that I live by when it comes to my living quarters. Because of this, everything that I have makes me happy when I look at it, and it’s enough to make a small living space feel exactly the right size.
You belong at PSU no matter what your educational background is, traditionally-schooled and homeschooled students alike. I’m a proud homeschool graduate, and today I’d like to share five common misconceptions that I have encountered through the years. (Plus, a picture of me with one of my classmates.)
Misconception #1: Homeschoolers are smarter than other students.
Nope, just because somebody is homeschooled doesn’t tell you how smart they are. Homeschoolers have a reputation for being nerds, and while that’s true of some of us, it’s not true for all of us.
Misconception #2: Homeschoolers are dumber than other students.
Same here — you can’t tell someone’s intelligence just by looking at where they went to school. I often got teased for not being super in-the-loop about current events. But I was always like this, even when I went to traditional school, and it doesn’t mean I’m not smart. I just find other topics more interesting.
Misconception #3: All homeschoolers are taught by their parents.
It depends on the household! People assume that because I speak French, my parents are French. But my parents don’t speak a word of the language (except buzzwords like “croissant” and “oui”). I learned through online classes without my parents ever getting involved other than to pay my tuition. It also did not work for me to learn math from my parents; we all got too frustrated. So I took online classes for that, too. However, some homeschooled kids do learn from their parents, so it all depends what family you’re looking at.
Misconception #4: Homeschoolers don’t interact with other children.
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t a particularly social child (nor am I a social adult). If I didn’t have to leave the house, I wouldn’t. But that says more about me as a person than it does about homeschoolers as a group. We often attend co-ops to take classes or are involved with clubs and societies where we meet other kids. (You’re looking at a former homeschool chess club member here. Yes, I’m cool.) We aren’t locked in our house for eight hours a day, five days a week. We go out and about, run errands, and learn out in the real world. We have plenty of social interaction. There’s just as much variance in levels of introvert and extrovert among homeschoolers as there is in any other population group.
Misconception #5: Homeschoolers have it easier than traditionally-schooled kids.
I sure do hear this one a lot. Luckily, COVID has made it easy to debunk this particular idea. Just because you’re doing something at home doesn’t make it less hard — in fact, doesn’t it seem harder to work from home sometimes than it is working in the office? There are so many more distractions. The vast majority of homeschoolers are hard workers. If they have it easier in one way, it usually balances out in another. For instance, I didn’t take chemistry in high school, but it’s because I was spending my time doing college-level French class instead. My history knowledge is sparse, but I’ve been writing novels since I was 15. I didn’t have it easier than kids in regular high school. I just had it different.
The biggest thing homeschooling has taught me is that everywhere can be your classroom, and that you can learn something from everybody. That’s a lesson I’m grateful for and that I continue to use every day.
PSU’s CAT program teaches all facets of IT infrastructure in a professional environment
The CAT (Computer Action Team) is a hands-on, IT training program for student volunteers. PSU’s University Communications spoke to the CAT’s Department Manager, Brittaney Califf, and Communications Student, Brian Koehler to find out more about the opportunities CAT provides for students. Interview edited for clarity and length.
Q: What does the CAT do and what does being part of the team entail?
Brian Koehler: The CAT (Computer Action Team) provides IT support throughout the Maseeh College of Engineering (MCECS). With a primary focus on instructional needs, we support many large-scale computer labs (both college-wide and departmental), remotely accessible computer/session servers, various remotely accessible services as well as the server and physical network infrastructure that binds it all together. Where possible, the CAT is also able to leverage its infrastructure to support research and special projects in the college.
The second purpose of the team is to provide an invaluable resource to all students of Portland State University, regardless if they are students of MCECS or not. We provide IT training and skills via our brain dump program to students as well as Help Desk Work experience in an IT environment.
Brittaney Califf: We do everything here! We have our own admin side, our own user services, all the way to the end to our own surplussing of equipment and recycling, so we run the gamut.
Can you tell us more about the Braindump program?
BK: The Braindump program is the major part of being in the CAT. Every student who joins the CAT is expected to participate in this program. It is a weekly 3-4 hour class that is taught by one of our full-time employees or a student leader that has to do with IT. In return for this free class, we ask that students volunteer 3-4 hours per week working on our front desk helping MCECS students and faculty with their IT issues. Students then can put what they learned in the Braindump class in action while on the front desk.
BC: The program is only offered once a year, in the fall. The next brain dump batch will be starting Oct. 8 for this year and we only take one set per year because it’s really like an 18-month program — one batch ends up teaching the next batch. They get a broad range of skills to be at the front desk. Probably within 3 months, they’re on the front desk and by 6 or 8 months in, they’re alone on the front desk, helping people. The best way to learn around here is just to help other people.
What kind of skills are developed in working for the CAT?
BK: Students in the CAT can learn almost every facet of IT infrastructure in a professional environment. Some of these systems include Windows, Linux, printers, website development, and networking. We also have teams that specialize in technical and wiki writing to record and document all of the Computer Action Team’s training and systems, as well as student leadership roles and a communication team.
BC: If you don’t know what you want to do, this is a great place to find out what you enjoy: You can do the purchasing, administrative, and business end or you can join a networking team. You can do hardware, software, development, web administration and we have a video team. We have a huge variety of opportunities where people can mess around and find what they love. People really find their niche here.
What kind of jobs can experience with the CAT lead to?
BK: Many students have found jobs via connections they made at the CAT with Nike, Intel, and other local companies. Our weekly Braindump classes will teach students everything about IT in a professional setting as well as give them hard skills they can use in their day-to-day technology use. They will walk away with one year of IT help desk experience if they complete the Braindump program. They also have the chance to work closely with our full-time employees and get even more directed training in any systems of their choice.
How many people are currently involved in the CAT?
BK: The CAT is run by Janaka Jayawardena, who set up the idea of the Braindump program and student volunteer program almost 30 years ago, and is assisted by Brittaney. The team consists of 8 FTE (that includes a director and department administrator), 7-10 student workers, and an army of volunteer trainees. Technical support for each platform (Windows, Linux/UNIX, etc.) has a full-time lead who, in turn, is surrounded by a team that may include full-time employees, student workers, and student volunteers.
BC: There are fewer student workers right now due to current constraints, but the volunteer crowd consists of about 43 people right now.
How has the CAT been operating differently during the pandemic?
BK: The Computer Action Team was one of the driving forces to getting many MCECS systems pandemic-ready; the students and full-time employees worked daily to get all of the labs set up virtually and get the professors and employees of MCECS running. To do this, we had our students in the technical writing team update and improve our website to have the latest information and user guides to getting set up for remote labs.
BC: The Braindump program has also been all online for the first time ever — this is our first remote batch of students. Skills are being transposed into online help, whereas students would usually walk over to a lab and help somebody. Phone calls are usually a big thing for us and those are not happening; they’re being transposed into voicemails and students are then returning the calls. It’s a little weird but no less active. People are not needing less help, they’re just needing different help.
What should students interested in joining the CAT know?
BK: Again, we only enroll students once a year in October; it is the only chance they get to join the Braindump program and become a part of the CAT. They can learn more at our website and they can follow our social media accounts to get a heads up on next year’s orientation.
BC: We take people from all across campus. You don’t have to be studying Engineering, we’ve had folks from Geology, English, Physics — all over the place. We’ve taken folks who don’t know how to turn a computer on! You really do learn from the ground up, if you need to, and it starts wherever you are.
How a Portland State student group makes the major more welcoming for all
If you’re a current or prospective computer science student, you may have heard of We in Computer Science, more commonly known as WiCS, one of PSU’s student-led computer science groups. But do you know much about the group’s goals or what it offers for CS students? WiCS’s 2020-2021 president, Alejandro Castaneda, weighs in on four key things to know about the group.
WiCS was originally founded as “Women in Computer Science” by a group of women at PSU who felt that they didn’t belong and that there wasn’t a space for them in computer science.
That out-of-place feeling was largely due to a general trend in tech: “As courses go on to the upper division, the amount of women and people of color in classes just drops down significantly,” Alejandro explains. “This is something seen throughout the whole industry, where people of color and women have higher burnout rates . . . It’s this culture of tech that is very exclusionary.”
The group was later renamed to “We in Computer Science” as an acknowledgement that several groups —including women and people of color as well as LGBTQIA+ and gender non-conforming people, first-generation immigrants, and disabled people — face this exclusionary culture.
Its name may have changed, but WiCS has always focused on supporting each of these groups that have been historically underrepresented in computer science. WiCS envisions a future in which these groups are truly included — a future in which diversity is celebrated and people can truly feel that they belong in computer science.
WiCS works to build this future by providing a community in which members can receive advice and guidance from people who may have been through similar experiences. Essentially, as Alejandro says, “In case they are struggling, or in case they’re feeling alone, they have this whole community that is also there to support them.”
3. Mentorship program
WiCS’s mentorship program is one major way in which it builds this community. Mentees are paired up with a mentor (who can, in turn, also be a mentee if they so choose). It’s one of WiCS’s biggest highlights, Alejandro says. The mentor helps foster connections between their mentee and the rest of the WiCS community, and helps guide them through courses and jobs.
The 2020-2021 school year marks the third year of the program, and with 23 mentors and 36 mentees total, it’s still going strong even in this year’s remote world.
Aside from its mentorship program, WiCS also holds several events throughout the year designed to help and support its community. Here are the big ones:
Annual Winter Career in Tech Night: A workshop in which local tech companies are connected with WiCS members to provide real-world advice for resumes, internships, interviews, networking, hiring standards, and everything else career-related.
Annual Spring Hackathon: Participants work with a team over a weekend on a real coding project to encourage community growth and bolster coding skills for students of ALL levels.
Monthly Town Halls: These often feature presentations from members of the tech community and discussions about how to both improve and thrive within the industry.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about WiCS is that they want you to get involved. Alejandro advises checking out WiCS’s website and its Slack channel, and recommends people who are curious to come to one of the events it hosts.
Just taking the initiative to attend a WiCS event is a fantastic first step. “Even if your video’s off, even if your mic is on mute, you still showed up,” Alejandro says. That bit of involvement can lead to deeper participation and connection, and can potentially create an experience that’ll stick with you for years.
WiCS may focus on supporting groups that are historically underrepresented in computer science in particular, but that doesn’t mean that only people in those groups can be a part of its community. Anyone who shares WiCS’s vision of a future where everyone can feel welcome in computer science is encouraged to take that first step and check the group out!
Buying a home is the quintessential American Dream. Couch is the evolution of a simple idea to make homeownership more achievable for partners or groups of individuals.
The idea for Couch was developed by MBA students Jesse Harding and Jacob Taddy, evolving from Taddy’s MBA Pioneering Innovation team in 2018. Together, they created Couch, a business that makes it easier for people to invest in a home either as a group or in a partnership.
Here’s how Harding explains Couch: “Couch uses its system of service and educational resources to create a holistic ecosystem that supports buying partners in being more competitive and reducing risk in the venture by helping prepare them for co-owning and management of their property. Think of it as TurboTax for shared home buying.”
Couch was created through the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Couch is in development.
Harding describes Couch’s business this way: “We are focused on improving homeownership access and affordability by making buying and then owning a home with others easier. We take a proactive approach, streamlining the organization, decision making and administrative aspects of buying that is further complicated when you don’t fit within the conventional box of buying with a spouse or as an individual.”
We asked Jesse about his business and experience at PSU.
“Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube provided a dynamic community of innovative thinkers that I could learn from. The ability to share insights and resources made my concept stronger. I also really benefited from the informal accountability that emerged from our group dynamic. Juan, Himalaya, and Xuan [the Cube’s staff] were always there, gently pushing and supporting me along the way.
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance in whatever form you need it. You’d be surprised how willing faculty and advisors are to support you.
Oh geez! A lot. Of course, we’re looking for funding. We’re still focused on the build-out of our IP (Title Selector, Partnership Agreement Builder, etc.). You can never have too much market validation. So, I’m working on a couple of Study Cases and using lean surveys to that effect.
Harding graduated in June 2020 with an MBA and a graduate certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.
“Moving forward, I’m focused on positions where I can merge storytelling and strategy. That could be public or private so long as the net benefit of the work is that it grows community. Ideally, within the next ten years you’ll see me helping to lead the charge behind a high-impact social innovation/social enterprise,” Harding said.
Looking for a sweet treat? Look no further than Woppa! alfajores. Created by four founders, Woppa! is a business that creates GMO-free alfajores sandwich cookies that come in a variety of flavors.
One of the four founders of Woppa! is innovator and student-entrepreneur German Ochoa. Ochoa is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Global Supply Chain Management.
Ochoa’s business model is focused on sustainability and inclusion while sharing delicious alfajores with the world, which are sandwich cookies found in countries like Spain and Argentina. After a year of research and development, Ochoa found that the only way to stand out from the competition was to create a sustainable product “that can genuinely represent and inspire those who follow their dream.”
Woppa! was created with the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Woppa! is in the process of completing its production line and looking to expand to a second facility.
We asked German about his business and experience at PSU.
“The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube has made great connections for me in the food industry and advising on a few essential steps to execute my next phases, whether it is preparing financial opportunities down the row or ensuring my company’s IP (intellectual property).
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best. That is why you are called an entrepreneur, take the risk because no one will do it for you.
Next is to open a second facility here in Portland to ensure a lean process that would allow me to grow in different regions.
Ochoa anticipates graduating in the fall and plans to finish two of his certificates in Food and Beverage and Social Innovation at PSU. In terms of his business Ochoa said he plans to “expand more in the food industry and find more opportunities where my knowledge can serve others.”
2020 was taxing for everyone, but I felt like I had a double helping of misfortune. Not only was there the pandemic to contend with, but I had a disastrous trip abroad last year, and have been dealing with the symptoms of PTSD ever since. I already have a lot to worry about — myself staying safe, my friends and family staying safe, trying to keep my motivation up for school during this time. However, recently I’ve had to confront an uncomfortable realization that I simply don’t know how the next few years of my life will look.
I’ve always been a planner, and had certainly made plans for those years. I applied for grad school earlier this year, and have had that intention for a while. However, with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to get some of the extra experience that I wanted in preparation for my graduate program. I applied feeling less secure than I wanted. I’m currently trying to sort out how I feel about the prospect of going to grad school if the program will be online. And what happens if I don’t even get in? I’d find a job and I’m sure I’d adjust, but it’s more about the thought of what I desperately want to happen not happening — the pandemic not ending, and not getting into my dream program. I also got engaged to my partner of five years a month ago, and as sweet as that’s been, the both of us have been worried and uncertain, unable to really begin planning anything solid for our wedding. As it may be evident, I’ve spent a lot of time spiraling.
Unfortunately, all I can do is wait. I must wait and see if I get into my program, I must wait and see what happens with the pandemic that affects all of us. I even must wait and see how other factors in my life come into play to decide when to get married. It’s a lot of uncomfortable uncertainty, my very weakness. My armor is planning and doing the best I can to make my dreams and plans come true. The best I can do is plan for different scenarios and try to stay flexible.
While 2020 was the hardest year of my life, I’ve also undergone a lot of personal growth. I don’t think I will ever entirely be the type of person that can just sit back and be extremely flexible with change, but I’ve come a long way in realizing that sometimes no matter how much you plan things, they will still go wrong. I had that exact experience with my trip abroad. Everything was planned out to the smallest detail, but fortune was not in my favor regarding a dish I chose to eat at a restaurant that made me very ill and culminated in my hospitalization. I’d planned for some general stomach upset when adjusting to a new cuisine, but nothing to that level. You can either fight that or take a deep breath and adjust. I’ve definitely been grieving for the experiences I feel like I’ve missed out on, and trying to put that energy into what I’m looking forward to later in my life. However, sometimes I fail to be optimistic, and simply feel really sad and worried about how adrift I feel. None of my plans are anchoring me.
It’s an effort every day to try to coach myself on not adding on additional worries about things that I can’t control. It’s something I struggle with a lot because of my personality, but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. I’m glad that I’ve been able to adjust in a positive way because of everything that’s happened, and come out a stronger, better, more resilient person, even if I don’t necessarily feel that way all the time.
As we enter Wave 2 of Lockdown, we are also entering a new wave of boredom. Animal Crossings: New Horizons isn’t new and exciting anymore, cooking has grown dull, and the shorter days are making it harder to get outside for exercise. I found myself in need of a new hobby, and discovered it through a Netflix show that lots of people have been binge watching: The Queen’s Gambit.
Perhaps you’re a fan of this Netflix original series too – the story of a young girl who becomes one of the greatest chess players in the world while struggling with substance abuse. It drew me in from the first episode and stuck with me after the end. It also inspired me to start playing chess again.
Not to sound too cool or anything, but I was part of the homeschool chess club in middle school. So I already knew how to play, as did my roommates, who were also inspired by the show to rediscover chess. I ordered a magnetic chess board for the princely sum of $13 and we all waited eagerly for it to arrive. When it did, we tore open the package, set up the pieces…and I proceeded to be absolutely decimated in my first game.
I’m not particularly good at chess. But it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy the process of planning out my next move, looking for counterattacks, and attempting to protect my own pieces. After learning that the middlegame is my weak point, I read some articles on middlegame theory and won the next game. Then I told my boyfriend what I learned and he won the next one. And so on. It’s fun playing against him and we have chess matches while we’re cooking dinner and waiting for the oven to preheat.
Chess has a surprising benefit for me: While I’m playing, I can’t think about anything else. I have severe anxiety and am pretty much constantly worrying, but there isn’t time for that when you’re trying to plan out your next moves. A game of chess takes us about 30 minutes to an hour, and for that length of time, my mind is occupied. And after the game, I’m mentally tired, which means my brain doesn’t have as much energy to worry.
I certainly didn’t expect a Netflix show to be so beneficial for me and my roommates, but it has been. COVID-19 might be winning right now, but we just have to tough it out a while longer, and I’m confident that we will come out on top. And for right now? Chess is helping keep my anxiety at bay. Unexpected, but I’ll take it.
It’s important to have a good work-life balance. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, many people’s lives are crossing over into one another, the lines and boundaries blurring together. For myself and other students, it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of everything and maintain those boundaries. I work remotely right now, so many parts of my day take place in the same room. I work at my desk, log onto my classes at my desk and relax at my desk. It can also be a struggle to define your day with online classes. Since you can do the work at any time of day, everything bleeds into each other.
However, I’ve had some success keeping my day defined with Google Calendar. I used to rely on a physical planner because I liked having something to hold and write in, but I have permanently switched over to an online one! You can’t beat how portable an online calendar is, as well as mess-free to edit. My favorite feature is definitely the ability to have your task list right next to you when using Google Calendar on the computer. I also appreciate that you can create different calendars for different aspects of your life (and color-code them). For instance, I have a work calendar, a homework calendar and a personal calendar. I can toggle my homework calendar on and off to see due dates for assignments and remove it if it’s causing too much clutter. It’s also helped me to schedule my day, if I know I have a bunch of things to get done but no particular time to do it. This has helped me feel like there’s some semblance of normal during this time, and I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone wanting to get organized. You can also use Google Calendar on your phone if you need to check things on the go.
It’s also helped me to make some clearer boundaries for my work-life balance. Obviously, it will never be back to normal until I’m commuting again, but I’ve tried to create boundaries where I can. If I’m done with work and classes for the day, I try not to allow myself to drift into homework mode when I have some time to myself. Focusing on homework during a specific time helps me stay productive. Obviously, something different works for everyone, and doing homework here and there throughout the day might work better for you. However you’re getting through trying to live a normal life when things are decidedly not-normal, I wish you the best.
I may have a slight problem with how much I enjoy autumn. It’s my favorite season of the year, and I always gripe that it never feels like it lasts as long as I want it to — whereas seasons like summer, that I’m not a fan of, seem to go on forever. A large part of my autumn (and winter) enjoyment comes from an upbringing in sunny, desert California. The kind of fall color (and snow) that we get up here is not something I’m used to. I’ve been in Portland for four years now, but it still takes my breath away every time. One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific NW is that we have four distinct seasons, and I really enjoy doing activities I can only do in that season. It helps me enjoy the seasons I’m kind of iffy on. But if you’re new in Portland, or been here for a while but never soaked up the autumn joy like a sponge, I’ve got some recommendations and tips to how I try to spend those precious months.
Visit a pumpkin patch!
Portland has a lot of pumpkin patches. You’ll definitely have your pick. My partner and I usually visit Sauvie Island, as one of the patches there really has it all — a barn with animals, hay rides, a corn maze, a little market, a gift shop, hot food and drink, and of course the pumpkins. We always find their pumpkin prices reasonable, and there are always delicious things to pick up at the market.
Carve your pumpkin!
Although Halloween this year was a little quiet, my partner and I had fun carving our pumpkins and setting them out on the porch. Roasting the pumpkin seeds creates a wonderful snack!
Enjoy seasonal food!
Hot tip: one of my favorite snack spots, Waffle Window, has seasonal apple pie waffles and pumpkin pie waffles that are to die for.
View the gorgeous fall colors before they’re gone!
My favorite thing to do, hands down, is simply take in the changing colors around me. I’m lucky to live right across the street from a gorgeous park, and my street has a lot of trees that change color. This year, my partner and I had a picnic in the fall leaves, and it was truly wonderful. I always make sure to take a lot of pictures! I would recommend visiting some famous spots, like Multnomah Falls or the Japanese Garden, in autumn. We didn’t go this year, but the sights are spectacular with a shift in the color spectrum. Insider tip: the best time to see the leaves, in my opinion, is the last week of October or first week of November.
However you spend your autumn, I encourage you to take advantage of the stunning Oregon colors. Throwing myself into special seasonal activities really helps me enjoy the little things in life and get as much as I can out of the year. Are there any favorite fall activities of yours that I missed?